Ask any parent, and if they are honest, they will agree: Parenting is impossibly hard. As my 4 year old was running away from me one night, screaming at me as he ran, I realized why these relationships are so hard: My personal desire to be safe and comfortable is threatened by my kids.
I’ve invited and co-created these little humans into the world. I’ve fed them, hugged them, disciplined them, and have done my best to love them. Ultimately, though, what I have given them is a part of me. They walk and run around this world with my heart draped over their shoulders…without any clue as to what they are carrying.
The reality of being unsafe with them comes alive in moments of panic. When my 9-month old is choking on something he’s found under the dining room table, I become aware that his life contains a part of me that I’ll never have back. If he goes away, so does his portion of my heart. It’s why a child’s scream of terror or pain makes me move with the speed of a superhuman. When my son falls off the the top bunk bed at night, I’m in his room quicker than his tears. When they hurt, I hurt.
My heart is with them, and that does not make me feel safe. They will do as they please. They have the same free-will as I do, and I really don’t like them for that. In fact, I often resent them for being human. Sometimes, I wish they were robots, doing as I say, playing nice, and behaving on behalf of what’s right. I want them to be safe, so I can be safe.
But really, safety is just an illusion. Our cars have airbags, but at 75 mph on an interstate, compressed air isn’t going to keep me safe. An airplane has seat belts, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m in a rocket with wings going 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground. I lock my house at night, but a deadbolt is not going to keep a tornado at bay, nor the rising waters of a flood.
Much of life is building and creating supports that give us the illusion of feeling safe. Kids don’t factor into that illusion. This realization is clearly understood by most parents. Kids are humans, and they’re going to do what they think is best, or whatever pleases them. There’s nothing I can do to really be in control of them. This reality coupled with the gift of my heart to them creates a mess. If I want to be safe, I must control them; if I am okay not being safe, I must find a way to cope with inevitable pain. This is a sobering truth for every parent.
It’s sobering, because I know that I often try to control them. I try to get them to stop smacking their food, stop eating pizza on the couch, and stop fighting as they brush their teeth. When I realize that I can’t control them, I get jealous (Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?). I’m jealous that they get to be the kids and I have to be the grown-up.
I think life as an adult is lived within the infamous 80-20 rule: Eighty percent is doing things we have to do, and 20 percent is doing things we want to do. That equation is the opposite for kids. To be an adult, we cannot play 80 percent of the time like our kids. And this is a big problem for most of us adults. We don’t want to do the 80% work that life requires. We want easy, and 80% work is not easy. The result … numbed-out adults.
Kids aren’t numb (depressed), rather they feel and express. Kids’ expressiveness in life challenges adult depression and adult self-absorption. Adults want to go to sleep, figuratively, and when a kid wakes them, we adults feel a rage of being roused from the comfy sleepy world of depressed self-absorption. Getting angry at a kid for being curious, playful, and expressive is like getting mad at water for being wet, shapeless, and messy.This is why parenting is so hard: As a parent, I can’t keep my kids from being kids and I can’t always keep them safe, which means I will suffer and hurt when they do. Our children invite us to see the world through untamed eyes. It’s both wonderful and frightful. Parenting is about helping kids become adults tomorrow while holding onto the hope, wonder, curiosity, and awe they live with today.